About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Big Empty by Stan Jones and Patricia Watts

The Big Empty by Stan Jones and Patricia Watts - Nathan Active, Chief of Public Safety in Chukchi on the northwest coast of Alaska, and Cowboy Decker investigate an airplane crash that killed the pregnant Evie Kavoonah and her fiance, Dr. Todd Brenner. Decker cannot believe the official investigation finding of pilot error because the airplane ran out of gas. He knows the plane was fully fueled. When Active and Decker actually carefully examine the plane, unlike the Federal inspectors, they find balloons filled with water in each wing’s fuel tank. The balloons have meant the gauges show full but the tanks were about one-quarter full.

Decker was to fly the plane which crashed until a late switch with Evie. There is no obvious suspect with a grudge against Decker. Evie and Brad were a popular couple.

Looking out at the runway Active realizes the balloons in the tank could be weather balloons lofted into the sky daily at Chukchi to record the weather.

The investigation concentrates on those who would have access to such balloons and their relationships with the deceased.

At home Active and the beautiful Grace, now his wife, are expecting their first child. Grace, still deeply scarred by the sexual abuse of her youth and her turbulent time in Anchorage as a young adult, has hesitated to get pregnant. She has frequent mood swings as she thinks about the baby. When down she wonders whether to carry the baby through to birth.

Active and Grace have adopted 13 year old Nita. They are adjusting to the challenges of parenting a teenager uncertain of her status in the family as an adopted child. The emotional issues for Grace are extreme. Nita is actually her daughter and Grace’s father is Nita’s father. Active and Grace have never told Nita.

Relationships are at the heart of the book. Hearts have been broken and bitterness abounds.

While Chukchi is “dry” abuse of liquor is all too common with all the inevitable corrosive consequences.

When a suspect dies the investigation grows complicated.

A potential witness abandons work to hunt caribou. While employers grumble it is a tradition for Inupiat to go into the country after caribou when word reaches town they are in the area.

It is a darker mystery than earlier Active books. There is a shortage of the sarcastic / ironic humour of the indigenous people that enlivened previous books. I wish there had been more of the celebrations of Inupiat life featured through the series. It is hard to find a character in The Big Empty who is enjoying life. Even Active and Grace, having made the commitment of marriage, are more unhappy than I expected with their lives. While set in the fall the plot would have been well suited to the 24 hour darkness of Arctic winter nights.

I have appreciated the time spent out of Chukchi during the series. I find the trips and experiences in the bush more interesting than time spent in town. With money scarce town life is grim for most residents. I hope the next book is lighter. Whether there will be another is left uncertain by the ending.
Jones, Stan – (2009) - White Sky, Black Ice; (2010) - Shaman Pass; (2012) - "J" is for Stan Jones; (2013) - Frozen Sun; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II; (2015) - Village of the Ghost Bears; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2016) - Tundra Kill and An Exchange with Stan Jones on Sarah Palin and Helen Mercer and Governor Sarah Palin and Red Parkas;


  1. Stan Jones does a really effective job of depicting like in Chukchi, Bill, and it sounds like that's the case here, too. On that score alone, I enjoy this series. I know what you mean about a novel that's darker than others in the series. It'll be interesting to see whether things lighten a little in the next novel. Life brings ups and downs, and perhaps things will go 'up' a bit in the next story - if there is one.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think some characters work better with dark themes. I equally hope there is another in the series.

  2. As usual, Bill, I have read the first in this series but haven't read the 2nd one yet. I do have a copy and I look forward to reading it.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I also have lots of books in series unread.

  3. I don't know this series at all, but I'm always quite fascinated by Alaska, so I should investigate.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. It is an interesting series set in one of the most isolated places in the world.

  4. I have a couple of the earlier Nathan Active books that I haven't got to yet. I ought to see how I get on with them first I think before giving this one consideration. Thanks for the reminder, Bill.

  5. Col: Thanks for the comment. I would agree. It is a series best read in order.